My first memory of my father was when I was around three years of age when he was the Principal of Dodangoda Maha Vidyalaya. After work he occasionally used to take a walk around the school grounds with me clinging on to his forefinger. Right throughout my life he has been guiding and inspiring me until that sad day on 8th September 2014 when his hands were clasped together for the last time. The loss is not only for members of our family but also for countless students whom he taught over a period of 35 years with dedication. He used to boast that he had not taken even 35 days of leave in 35 years.
My father’s mother had died at childbirth when he was around one year old and he was brought up by his grandfather and a host of aunts and uncles. He had a happy childhood riding on his grandfather’s racing bull cart, and swimming in the river. He had attended the vernacular village school in Puwakaramba, Moratuwa and next to Prince of Wales’ College (PWC).
At PWC my father was not only good in his studies but was involved in a diverse range of activities including debating and cadetting. He was selected to the University of Colombo to pursue his BA degree. He spent one year at the University of Colombo and was fortunate to be in the first batch of students at the University of Peradeniya under Sir Ivor Jennings.
After finishing his BA degree my father joined his alma mater as a political science teacher under the legendary Principal JBC Rodrigo. While he was a teacher at PWC he married my mother who was a Maharagama trained science teacher working at Princess of Wales’ College. Their wedding reception was held at the PWC Main Hall with the Governor General of Ceylon Sir Oliver Goonatileke proposing the toast. It was a marriage made in heaven and flourished for 55 years until his passing away last year.
His first appointment as a Principal was at St Andrew’s College, Nawalapitiya. Thereafter my father served as Principal of the Industrial School which existed at the current Nalanda Vidyalaya premises. During this time he successfully completed the postgraduate Diploma in Education at Peradeniya. He was transferred to Dodangoda Maha Vidyalaya from where he moved to St Anthony’s College, Panadura and finally to PWC Moratuwa.
For a long period PWC had been in the doldrums and there was a strong demand for an old boy to be appointed as Principal. The new JR Jayewardene government had been elected and the MP for Moratuwa was Tyronne Fernando. Someone had whispered in the MPs’ year that my father was a leftist and he called my father for a chat before agreeing to the appointment. The MP had told my father that he did not care about his politics as long as he leaves it at the school gate. My father responded by saying that he leaves his politics behind at his gate at home. Tyronne Fernando used to regularly seek my father’s opinion even after my father’s retirement as he acknowledged that my father was one person who “called a spade a spade” and gave him honest feedback. My father’s loyal student Minister Sarathchandra Rajakaruna gifted his first salary as an MP for Dompe to PWC which opened the flood gates for funding and the school was never short of funds for development and sports activities. Fund raising activities such as the hugely successful carnivals raised money which enabled the school to bounce back and take its place as one of the best schools in Sri Lanka.
Although he never played competitive cricket he was passionate about the game. He served as the President of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association and was an ex officio member of the Cricket Board. He was the Manager of the Sri Lanka schools national team which under the captaincy of Marvan Atapattu toured England in 1978. Moratuwa is a cricket crazy town and rugby was an alien sport in the 1980s. It was my father who first introduced rugby to PWC and to Moratuwa. Thus it is a fitting tribute that the ‘MEC Fernando Trophy’ is awarded to the winners of the annual rugby ‘big match’ between PWC and Science College.
My father was involved in many voluntary activities. He was a teacher at the Moratumulla Methodist Church Sunday School for many years and later was in the forefront of setting up of the Day Care Centre built with foreign funding at the church premises. He served for many years on the management committee of the Home for the Aged located on Galle Road. He was also a member of the Factors Association of Moratuwa which comprises only 12 members. In addition he was heavily involved in the OBA and in a host of ‘Cambrian’ activities serving as mentor and guide.
He lived a fruitful life of 84 years and instilled in all of us the values of honesty and integrity. He did not strive to accumulate wealth and did not care much for money or for those whose goal in life was to accumulate wealth. For his part he was content with what he had. This is the reason I considered him to be the ‘richest man in the world’. Above all, he showed us by example the importance of sticking to principles regardless of consequences. He was indeed a Principal with principles.
As my son floated his ashes along the Moratuwa River on the day after the cremation, I felt a great loss. The forefinger that I clung to as a toddler 48 years back was not there for me anymore. But we will continue to hold on to the lessons he taught and the values we caught. These will be our guiding star until we meet again one day, on that beautiful shore.